Saturday, August 30, 2008

Morning Mullings

When stuck between a football game (Louisiana State University) and a Force 3 hurricane (Gustav), it's great to have a laptop with backup project files and a good internet connection. As Bonnie and I prepare to make our way back home from southern Louisiana, I've had some down-time to peruse digital maps and think about some of the recently completed fieldwork at Port Tobacco.

The northernmost historic site in the plowed fields south of town is undoubtedly 18th century, probably late 18th century. When I reexamined our drawings and digitally eliminated the symbols for all artifacts except bricks and window glass, it became apparent that the site contains very little brick. That suggests an earthfast building.

About 50 ft to the east is an area that yielded few artifacts but a cluster of brick fragments (I don't have my usual access for graphics production, so you'll have to use your imagination or refer back to earlier blogs for the North field.) It maybe that we have yet another site of uncertain date east of North Field I. As always, gathering more data in the field will help, or perhaps just revisiting what we have already done.

One of the things that I'd like us to do this week is to reexamine the data for the Compton field just east of the cemetery that we discovered. I hope that by focusing on just those shovel test pits we might be able to suggest a location for the earliest Anglican church in town and, thereby, focus testing in that area.

I'll be back tomorrow, forces of nature and the NCAA permitting.


Friday, August 29, 2008

13 Star Button

Previously I stated that there were more interesting buttons to blog about, so here's the next installment.

In Unit 10 Stratum 2 was found a metal button with 13 stars on it. This, as it turns out, would be the second military button found during the field session. I wrote earlier about the mid 19th Century button we found.

I remember when this button was found and everyone at the time, including myself, immediately thought it was a military button, and we were right. The button dates from about 1915-1950 but was mainly used during WWII as a clothing button for pants. While it's not one of our older artifacts, it is still an artifact just like any other we have found.

An interesting topic this brings up is this...

We have evidence of Port Tobacco taking part in the Revolutionary War, The War of 1812, and the Civil War. But after that we have stopped looking as the 20th Century is not one of the time frames the project is interested in at this point (it may be looked at in the future). So what role did Port Tobacco and its residents play in the major wars of the 20th Century? I'm sure a look at the census records and military records will help us answer this question. A research topic for another day.
- Peter

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lab Update

This morning the cataloging for the summer Field Session was finished! Yeah!

There is still an enormous amount of work to be done but the most time consuming part is done. We would like to send out a very big thank you to all of our volunteers as well as the staff of the MHT, especially Charlie and Bruce, for all the help.

At this point, we have packed up everything from the lab at Crownsville and will work from the home office. Jim is working on lithic analysis as well as preparing for other upcoming jobs. I will start work on the mapping part of the project this week.

I will continue to post updates on the happenings in the lab here as well as interesting finds (stay tuned for an artifact blog this weekend).

That's all for now.

- Peter

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Map Source

Yesterday Pete said a few words about maps and their importance as both resources for and products of our research. One of my favorite sources is the Library of Congress American Memory website. Here is the URL:

Just click on maps and type in Martenet for scanned 19th-century atlases of several Maryland counties. Or type in a subject keyword or phrase like "Charles County, Maryland" and see what pops up.

For those of you interested in Prince George's County, Maryland, or want to see what a county can do to make its cartographic and planning resources available for researchers and activists, check out This site, although a little difficult to navigate has layers of historic aerial photographs (1938, 1965, 1993, 1998) that can be superimposed on the modern road network. It also has the 1861 Martenet map and current tax map with attached property data.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008


We have used various resources in our research of Port Tobacco including maps. For centuries, maps have been used throughout the world for varying reasons.

I had the pleasure of attending an exhibit at the Walters Art Museum a few months back that was dedicated to maps. There were maps of the universe taken from space, a map of the first internet, a map from 15th Century China showing all the Buddhist temples along routes in and out of Peking, even a map of the fictional Hundred Acre Woods from Winnie the Pooh!

So why am I talking about maps?

Simple. Maps make up a large part of the work we do. We use them to recreate a site and to help us look for foundations, roads, fences, and any other marker to help us find our way. However, maps don't just show up on our doorstep. Sometimes maps are drawn from memory for others to use, as in the case of the Barbour map that we have used and posted here before. Others are found in land records or the state archives that give us dimensions of land. A few maps have been created as well. The land records don't always have a drawn map but do have a written one with metes and bounds for us to reconstruct on the computer using AutoCAD. These maps can then be scaled to fit existing historical plats and help us pinpoint the location of whatever it is we are looking for. Maps can also be used to help in the reconstruction of not only towns and roads but also geological features such as rivers and streams.

Maps alone will not always help you find what you are looking for but they are a great tool to utilize in archaeology!

- Peter

Monday, August 25, 2008

Future research priorities

Assuming that I haven't screwed it up, you will notice a new poll immediately to the left of this posting. We would like to gauge interest in some of the research topics that we are pursuing. These are some of the research topics with which the project is involved and the list is not intended to be inclusive.

Early prehistoric riverine adaptations refers specifically to the Late Archaic Indian sites that we have identified in Port Tobacco and in the fields extending to Warehouse Point. The floodplain setting of these sites suggest that the occupant exploited spring fish runs and a variety of wetland plants and animals. How these sites and the activities they represent fit into larger settlement and subsistence systems remains uncertain. These sites likely were occupied 3,000 to 5,000 years ago.

Contact period is that brief era during which Indians came in sustained contact with Europeans, the 1630s to the early 18th century in Southern Maryland. Surviving documents are remarkably few and obtuse on the question of how these two peoples interacted in Maryland. (They are a little better for Virginia.) We think we found a Contact period site in June during the Archeological Society of Maryland field session. With further investigation, can we find the remains of an Indian house? deposits containing Indian-made objects and traded European artifacts? evidence of dietary patterns (bones, mollusk shells, plant remains) that may reflect indigenous or creolized foodways?

We know remarkably little about town-formation along the Chesapeake Bay in the Colonial period. The few surviving records suggest concepts in town-planning, but say little about the realities of changing urban environments, including their adverse environmental impacts. Port Tobacco is a superb laboratory for studying these topics because it is well-preserved as an archaeological site, it has a relatively rich archival record, and it is one of the few Chesapeake settlements to have turned into something more than a handful of dwellings and taverns around a courthouse of landing. Discovery of the Colonial cemetery this past June likely will lead to the discovery of the first church, and with that we will have a significant key to the appearance of the early 18th-century town.

Port Tobacco and Charles County played a significant role in the Revolutionary War, particularly in supplying the Continental Army during the first few years of the conflict. We really do not know what the town looked like during that period, nor how it changed during the economic depression in the years following the war. How was the town laid out and what was the relative wealth of its occupants during and after the Revolution? The project team has already identified relevant sites and we expect to find more.

We are already pursuing the Civil War era in town, focusing largely on the last year of the war and the Lincoln conspiracy. We will intensify this work in connection with our Preserve America grant, but have already found one of our targeted sites for the period: the 'new' jailhouse. We will be looking for the house of conspirator George Atzerodt's common law wife, the post office, and Union encampments in the vicinity.

Feel free to raise other topics using the comment function of the blog. We will run this poll through October 1, 2008. We hope to have a volunteer weekend in October or November and the poll might play a part in our decision as to where to work during that event.

As for the previous poll, we are heartened to see interest in videos of the work and will endeavor to provide more and of higher quality. We will try to acquire an appropriate camera for the work.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Planning for next year

While our Preserve America grant remains tangled in red tape, it is important that we start thinking about next year. What kinds of sites do we want to further explore? Where will our funding come from?

I will not bore our readers with funding details, but thought I would reflect on a couple of possibilities on what we might look at and who might help us look.

The early cemetery discovered in October of 2007 and confirmed last June is one obvious site to pursue. We have no intentions of digging up human remains, but delineating the cemetery and finding the church associated with it would help us learn something about the changing layout of the town.

The aboriginal component that we began exploring in June has revealed both an early 18th-century house with a cellar and what appears to be a Contact period Indian site. Expanding the excavation to search for an aboriginal house and other features, and delineating the earthfast Colonial house will raise a variety of new questions about European-Indian relations and early Colonial development, as well as produce biological and sedimentological data on the changing environment.

To help us with these, and other, projects, we look to two sources of energetic labor: the Archeological Society of Maryland and college students from around the country. At the September 6 board meeting of ASM I will formally invite the Society to return to Port Tobacco for the annual field session. On September 5, I will discuss the possibility of a field school with my department chair at Stevenson University.

These are possibilities for next year. We'd still like to mount an effort in the fall (apart from the anticipated work funded under our elusive Preserve America grant) and, perhaps, some winter survey work in the wooded areas surrounding the Edelen family fields south of town. As always, all comers are welcome to join us. Archaeology, after all, is a team sport.

Tomorrow I hope to post a new survey regarding research interests.